There’s a small segment in the groundbreaking film Groundhog Day when beleaguered weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray), after who knows how many times living the same day over and over again, decides to try and end his cyclical torture by stealing the groundhog and driving off a cliff. When he still reawakens from this fiery suicide attempt, Phil spends the next few days killing himself in a variety of ways, hoping one will end his misery for good, only to turn to a new strategy when it becomes clear it won’t work. But what if killing yourself was the only way you could reset the clock? This question is the starting point for Tom Cruise’s new science fiction film, Edge of Tomorrow, and even though the idea isn’t the most original one out there, the execution of the story makes it feel as fresh as it did back in 1993.
Cruise plays Major William Cage, an advertising executive who joined the army after an alien race lands on Earth and begins to eradicate the human race. But Cage is not a soldier; he’s a mouthpiece whose job is to put a positive, healthy spin on the war and urge others to sign up, making it seem that the humans are turning the tide against their enemy, even if that may not be the case. He’s part of the political machine that relies on a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude.
For the most part, we’ve come to expect Cruise to play the macho, arrogant Type-A badass who has more courage in his thumbnail than the average cubicle worker has in his entire life. But Cage has none of these traits, and it’s fun to see Cruise play against type as a coward who can’t stand the sight of blood and will try everything, including blackmailing a standing General (Brendan Gleeson), to get out of even stepping foot on the front lines of battle, even if it is only to film the action of what is supposedly going to be a grand victory.
Cage’s “original” day (before his time loop begins) is the perfect set-up for the beginning of the character’s eventual journey. With a good blend of comedy and action, we are introduced to all of the supporting players (some of whom will have an integral role in defeating the aliens, and some who are there simply to add nuance to the repetition of the sequences) as well as all of the major points of action that will eventually help Cage decipher how to defeat the alien army.
But it’s in the first set of consecutive days that give Cruise a chance to shine with some terrific comedy bits, as he tries and fails to keep from dying on the battlefield. Only when he rescues Sergeant Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt) for the umpteenth time with precision and uncanny knowledge of the enemy’s attack strategy, does Cage finally see a light at the end of his tortuous nightmare. Knowing that they need to reset the day, Vrataski urges Cage to find her when he wakes up, just as they are both consumed by an explosive fireball.
After a couple of failed attempts at sneaking away from his unit (one of which is brilliantly executed), Cage tracks down Vrataski and learns that she once encountered the same exact time loop and now needs his help to defeat the enemy once and for all. The training sequences that follow are both fun and energetic and are mixed with several battle sequences in which the two of them get a few steps closer to their goal with each consecutive reboot. Cage’s exasperation at having to be killed once again because he’s injured gives authenticity to the events taking place.
What really sells the story, though, is the chemistry between Cruise and Blunt. If you were to build a list of the one thousand greatest actors of all time, Cruise would still probably be nowhere near it, but where he lacks in talent, he gains in charm and charisma, so even when he goes off the deep-end in his public life, his presence on screen is still as captivating as ever, most likely because of his willingness to throw his entire soul into the work, immersing himself so deeply, he’s able to convince you of anything. Add that to the elegant sophistication of Blunt’s style, and you get a great blend of opposite attraction, one which makes it easy to identify with and believe that Cage could, over time, fall for her so deeply he’d risk having to repeat the day forever if it meant keeping her alive.
The rest of the cast fits in quite well with Cruise as well, especially Bill Paxton as Cage’s Commanding Officer, Master Sargent Farell — a one-note character if there ever was one. Farell’s dialogue is almost identical throughout the film, but Paxton does a terrific job at changing it up ever so slightly each time to match the current set of circumstances (that are altered because of Cage’s actions) and give it resonance beyond simple repetition. One of the greatest character moments in the film is when Farell forces his squad to eat a deck of playing cards because he caught them gambling in the barracks. In a matter of seconds, we know who he is and what he believes in. It’s a shame we couldn’t learn more about this character, as I believe Paxton could have pulled off some great stuff with it, had he the chance to do so.
The ragtag team of misfit toys known as J-Squad are also set-up to be repetitive drones, but each one has their own set of idiosyncrasies (like Kimmel (Tony Way) who literally goes balls out, wearing his piece of fighter equipment completely nude, and Griff (Kick Gurry), the self-appointed leader of J-Squad) and are given just enough to play with to come off real and authentic, helping us to believe the decisions they make later on down the line.
The film wouldn’t be what it is, though, without a formidable enemy, and director Doug Liman and screenwriters Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth (based off of the book, “All You Need Is Kill,” by Hiroshi Sakurazaka) gives us a stellar one in the Mimics. The creature design is amazing, delivering an alien species that feel like giant squids with dozens of tentacles flying all around them as they swim through land and water, attacking with fierce precision and the ability to reform their bodies as they walk or fight to give them the best strategic advantage.
Funny, exciting, intriguing and well-edited, Edge of Tomorrow turns back the clock on a well-worn idea to create an energetic and wild ride that, despite a slightly questionable tag at the end of the film, delivers on everything we’ve come to expect from a Tom Cruise action flick.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include 22 Jump Street and How To Train Your Dragon 2. If you would like to see a review of one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.